Agrarian Wisdom for a Digital Age
By Eric Wright
Unlike my wife who grew up on a family farm in Minnesota, the lessons I gleaned from agriculture (pardon the pun) were discovered primarily in Sunday school. There, most of the illustrations and analogies were originally designed to connect with an agrarian culture, yet two millennia later, these timeless lessons from the land are just as relevant to a digital generation.
My favorite was the Parable of the Sower. It describes a farmer casting seed in a field and the seed falling on soil in various conditions with varying outcomes. The first lesson I realized was that success is often dependent on trying as many things as you can, as many times as you can, realizing that some will produce and some won’t. Like Edison, who tried thousands of substances as a filament for his electric light bulb, it is sowing not hoarding that produces geometric results.
The seed in the story, which is a message or idea, was the same. What differed was soil, namely the attitude and receptivity of the one who heard it. Every day I am exposed to transformational ideas, opportunities and people, yet those catalytic moments can pass me by because mental, emotional or even moral cataracts blind me from seizing them.
Francis Bacon’s famous maxim, “Knowledge is power,” is very true. But this ancient parable reveals something that most of us come to realize: knowledge is plentiful, but it only becomes powerful to the one who has the foresight and fortitude to use it.
Another story was about a farmer who “planted his crop and then went to sleep, and it grew, even though he didn’t know why.” This one is pregnant with meaning, beginning with the realization that we have a part to play, i.e. planting. But then he went to sleep, because we don’t need to waste our time fretting about outcomes we can’t control.
Which leads to the next point. Much of what we use we do so without having to understand how it works. There are countless technologies and principles (like sowing and reaping) that you don’t have to understand the science or the psychology behind why they work, for them to work for you.
The text adds, “the soil produces the crop itself.” In other words, there is this dormant potential that we can’t explain nor do we produce, but we can unlock by simply planting the investment of our time, talents and attention in the right place. Steve Jobs said, “When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.”
And Little Things
Perhaps the most familiar is “to have faith like a mustard seed.” Einstein was rightly selected as Time’s “Man of the Century” in 1999. No other single individual did more to reshape our understanding of how the universe works. One of his startling revelations was that a minute spec of matter has enough energy to light a city.
Like a small acorn can grow into a majestic oak and small beginnings can lead to remarkable outcomes, it is the irrepressible belief in that little idea that changes our world and perhaps everyone else’s for the better.